Republican candidates for Forsyth County Commission tussled over a proposed school bond and the county’s debt limit during a candidate forum on Thursday evening.
The four Republicans on the seven-member board are currently split between two conservatives — Richard Linville and Gloria Whisenhunt — and two moderates — Chairman Dave Plyler and Don Martin, who often vote with the board’s three Democrats, creating an effective governing majority.
Linville, Whisenhunt and Plyler are up for reelection in suburban-rural District B. Fellow Republican Bill Whiteheart, who lost the at-large seat in 2014 to Democrat Ted Kaplan, is also running in District B this year. With four candidates running for three positions in the multi-seat district, one of them will necessarily be eliminated in the March 15 primary.
One of the Republican candidates is definitely not considered a team player, said Whiteheart during the forum, which was hosted by the Winston-Salem Journal and Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce at the Center for Design Innovation.
“I would equate it to ballplayers that have played in the same stadium together,” Whiteheart said. “Bill Whiteheart, Richard Linville and Gloria Whisenhunt have played on the same team, and they have worn the red Republican jersey, while Dave Plyler has played for the other team and worn the blue jersey.”
Plyler, along with Martin and the board’s three Democrats voted to raise the county’s debt ceiling from 15 to 18 percent and lower the amount it is required to keep in the fund balance, while Linville and Whisenhunt opposed the changes.
“I think the most pressing issue or concern for me is the restoration of the 15-percent limit for debt,” Whiteheart said.
For his part, Plyler didn’t shrink from championing investment in school construction when asked to name his top priority as a commissioner. He said he hopes the commission will allow voters to consider a school bond of $325 million, at minimum. The chairman cited the advocacy of teachers, students and administrators from Konnoak Middle School, who said their requests for funding have been ignored by the county for 15 years.
“The school now is in serious bad shape,” Plyler said. “If we continue this type of funding of our school system, I’m afraid we’re going to have severe problems.”
Linville and Whisenhunt said investment in the schools will have to be balanced against other needs, such as parks and courthouse maintenance.
“I think we’re gonna have to set priorities of what we’re gonna do,” Linville said. “I honestly don’t think we can do all those things at one time. Schools — I’ll try to support as much of that as I can. I think we’re gonna have to try to space out the bonds. If we try to do it all at one time, the tax-rate increase that it would take to do that is significant, really significant.”
Commissioners will hear a presentation from Chief Financial Officer Paul Fulton on the county’s options for floating a bond to pay for school construction and other needs.
“Some of us already know that it don’t look good as far as how we’re gonna be able to — we know how to finance it, but how much to do at one time, I think we’re just gonna have to set our priorities,” Linville said.
Whisenhunt also cautioned against high expectations.
“Even though the economy has improved, I do not believe that it has improved enough that we can fulfill all of these promises that have been made and do all the things that have been promised in these bonds,” she said. “I do believe our first concern has to be with the taxpayer and how much they can absorb. And even though they may be coming out from under the economic downfall, a lot of them are not back on their feet. So for me the concern is to have a balance with the taxpayer and the bonds.”